Sell offs and sell outs

An awful lot seems to have happened on the housing policy front this week. Or at least the volume of housing talk has increased considerably.

We started the week with Brandon Lewis announcing that the Government wants to see a million new homes by 2020. But the Government then clarified that this doesn’t constitute anything as ambitious as a target. Nor does it appear they are proposing any significant new strategies, plans or actions to increase the likelihood that a million new homes might appear in the next four years. There was some reference to making it easier for people to build and to brownfield sites. But then there usually is. So precisely what this announcement signified was not altogether clear.

Lewis pitched the million homes figure into the news media during the Liberal Democrat conference. [Read more…]

Selling off social housing

8182240298_f9770a9cbeRumours have been circulating in the housing policy ether for several months now. Given the housing policy influence of the Policy Exchange at No 10 those rumours should have been, and were, treated seriously.

And now it looks like those rumours are well-founded. They’ve only gone and done it.  The Conservative manifesto pushes the Policy Exchange line that local authorities should be forced to sell high value properties in order to fund building new properties in lower value areas, and, if elected, they are proposing to extend the Right to Buy to housing associations. This opens up the possibility of an extra 1.3 million households having the chance to buy their home at a discount.

This is supposed to be the Conservatives’ big offer. Although, to be fair, it would seem to be a big offer targeted at a relatively small group of people – housing association tenants who earn enough from stable employment to be able to afford a property which, even at a substantial discount, is going to be a financial stretch.

Despite what some people seem to think, extending the Right to Buy to housing associations is not a new idea. [Read more…]

Has The Good Right got it right?

7134884983_5301865c77_zI’ve only just found the headspace to catch up with Tim Montgomerie and Stephan Shakespeare’s The Good Right, an agenda for the modernisation of conservatism. I was reminded of it yesterday while reading Stephen Tall’s final – and excellent as ever – post for ConservativeHome. The overarching aim of the project is to break away from the idea that the Conservative party is the party of the rich and seek to reinvigorate its mass appeal.

The Good Right styles itself as a contribution to internal debate on the future direction of the Right, but it has generated a lot of critical comment from all points on the political spectrum. The “libertarian” right clearly don’t like it very much because they don’t see it as “right” at all. While the left don’t like it for rather similar reasons: a Conservative party that embraced this agenda would be much better able to reach beyond its core vote and therefore would pose a much greater threat.

I’ve seen a number of people comment on how many of the 12 draft policy ideas presented by The Good Right they agree with. It would appear that the ideas resonate quite well with many. People with rather different public political alignments are willing to acknowledge that they could endorse many/a majority/pretty well all of the ideas. [Read more…]

Dissent in the ranks

Modern HousingYou’d expect lefties to kick up a fuss about the Coalition’s austerity-justified policies. An agenda that is having serious negative impacts upon the most vulnerable, while at the same time transferring wealth to the already wealthy, will have a tendency to annoy those who prioritize solidarity, dignity and security over the search for profit and the appeasement of plutocrats.

But that can be dismissed as just so much hot air from the naïve and irresponsible.

The problems really begin when your own people start cutting up rough.

And perhaps we’re beginning to detect that that is what is happening in the housing sphere. [Read more…]

The Conservatives as keepers of the liberal flame

Over at the New Statesman on Friday Ryan Shorthouse argued that liberals should look to the Conservatives to find the party delivering on a liberal agenda. In the post he reprises some themes that he set out in his contribution to the Liberal Reform fringe meeting at Liberal Democrat spring conference.

Conservative vs. Liberal Beliefs
In order to arrive at this conclusion Shorthouse adopts the strategy of giving credit for the ‘liberal’ policies pursued by the current Government to the Conservatives, while glossing over the fact that it is a coalition government and, indeed, that some of the policies cited were initially opposed by the Conservatives but pushed by the Liberal Democrats. He then takes a detour into political ancient history to identify a range of liberal measures adopted by Conservative governments past. And, credit where it is due, some of those measures – such as the factory acts, extension of the franchise, and the abolition of slavery  – were enlightened: they enhanced dignity and autonomy, augmented individual rights, and rebalanced power so that the vulnerable had greater protection against the powerful. [Read more…]

Zero-hours contracts – normalisation and back

storage roomZero hours contracts are not new. But that doesn’t mean they’re not news.

Today the BBC reports on a study by CIPD that suggests there are four times as many workers on zero-hours contracts than previously thought – a million rather than 250,000. Perhaps as important as the absolute number is the speed at which the use of such contracts appears to be growing. They have been around for a long time and are prevalent in particular industries – such as domiciliary care – where demand for services has always fluctuated substantially and unpredictably. But it appears that they are becoming normalised.

Many of those on the employer side of the labour market see the development of zero-hours as positive. It’s a positive indicator of the flexibility of the UK labour market. So it’s good for UK plc.

But it may be that flexibility needs to go further. At least one Tory MP was on Twitter yesterday arguing – rather incredibly – that zero-hours contracts are a product of the unnecessarily restrictive regulation of the UK labour market. If only more of the regulatory burden were lifted from employers then they would be willing to offer more regular, more secure employment. That is, of course, despite the country already having one of the least regulated labour markets in the world. [Read more…]

A couple of off-key incidentals from Cameron

The text of David Cameron’s speech today to the National Conservative Convention contains the following passage:

… We give people the tools to succeed. Yes, we believe self-reliance is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean “you’re on your own”. You can’t just say to the teenager who no one has ever believed in: “pull yourself up by the boot-straps”.

I know the leg-ups I got in life.

A loving family, wonderful parents, a great school and university.

Aspiration needs to be nurtured.

And this party has always understood that.

We want people to climb up through their own efforts, yes…

…but in order to climb up they need the ladder to be there in the first place…

…the family that nurtures them, the school that inspires them, the opportunities there for them.

Great Conservatives down the generations have put those ladders in place.

When Churchill invented the labour exchanges that helped people into work.

When Macmillan built new homes.

When Thatcher fired up enterprise so people could start their own businesses.

That’s what we’re doing in the Conservative Party right now.

There are a couple of things about this passage that jar somewhat. [Read more…]

Travels through Coalitionland: Notes of disquiet and dissent

CoalitionlandfpThe formation of a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats was probably the only viable outcome of the General Election in May 2010. A coalition between two unnatural bedfellows in the public interest looked like the only plausible way forward.

Coalition was always going to be a journey that carried risks. It is rarely kind to the junior partner. The history of Tory-Liberal coalitions in Westminster is not an entirely happy one, especially for the Liberals.

The nature of the Coalition’s political agenda became apparent fairly soon after it was formed. Criticism and protest swiftly developed in response. My response was to engage with the agenda online. I have been blogging about political developments under the Coalition since 2010. [Read more…]

Tory tailspin

5828140208_8a97682643_nIt is clear, even to the casual observer, that the Conservatives are in a bit of a tangle. You could say the same about the other main political parties. But the Conservatives appear to be going through a particularly public convulsion at the moment.

They seem to have misplaced 20% of their opinion poll support over the course of 2012. Many of those potential voters appear to have transferred allegiance to UKIP. On the basis of opinion polling, some commentators are already declaring UKIP the third party of British politics, overtaking the Liberal Democrats.

Paul Goodman posted a piece at the Telegraph on the weekend arguing that the rise of UKIP was one of four factors which pointed to the conclusion that the 2015 General Election is already lost. The piece generated a rapid response among the right wing commentariat. Both Tim Montgomerie and Iain Dale argued that while a Labour victory in 2015 looks likely, the result isn’t inevitable. There are steps that David Cameron can take over the next year that would revive the Conservative party’s fortunes. Grant Shapps waded in on New Year’s Eve to castigate anyone declaring that the election is already lost. This is just, in his view, being defeatist.

The question, of course, is what Cameron should do to turn things around. Inevitably, views differ. About the only point commentators seem to be closely aligned upon is that Cameron needs to make his long-promised landmark speech on Europe, with some serious substance, some time very soon.

For much of last year the Conservatives’ right wing backbenchers were making a nuisance of themselves both in the House and in the media. The clamour is for isolationism and turbocharged neoliberalism. A decisive swing to the right is claimed to be the way to see off the UKIP threat and encourage wavering right wing voters back into the fold.

Over the New Year it was the turn of the centre-right moderates and the modernisers to make an alternative case. This is a case we hear being made much less frequently. [Read more…]

Fool me once …

Plenty of political announcements made at this time of year are little more than conference fodder. They grab a headline and a round of applause and that’s the last we hear of them. But George Osborne’s proposals to cut another £10bn from welfare don’t fall into that category. They were buried in the detail of previous policy statements and it was only a matter of time before they bubbled to the surface. Conference season is the ideal time because it allows some posturing against the modern folk devil – the feckless scrounger.

We only have media reports of Osborne’s speech at the moment, and we’ve no idea what’s going on behind the scenes, but a key element to this story is going to be how it plays out within the Coalition.

Clearly the New Victorians of the Conservative party are full-speed ahead for cutting welfare, with a strongly Malthusian undertone that if we lose a few scroungers along the way through starvation then that’ll save us a bit of money.

But the Liberal Democrat position is a bit more complex. [Read more…]